Primavera Sound Barcelona was founded by Pablo Soler with the idea of bringing a variety of independent artists from across a wide swath of genres, along with established artists, to an urban environment in spring; primavera means spring in Spanish. The first iteration, April 2001, with four stages and 19 artists including Armand Van Helden and Los Planetas, attracted 8,000 people. From that point forward, Primavera has been the definition of experienced explosive growth: to 18,000 people in 2002; 24,000 people in 2003, and now boasts over 40,000 people per day.
Growth = New Venue
The growth, exponential and fast, led organizers to abandon their initial site, Poble Español, an open-air architectural museum. Since 2005, Primavera Sound has set up camp at the redeveloped swath of land facing the Mediterranean, Parc del Forum, in the northern part of the city. In 2017 over 200,000 people attended to experience more than 200 acts across six main stages. Genres run from folk and jazz to metal, experimental and electronic, with pop, hip-hop and indie thrown in the middle somewhere. It’s a behemoth of a festival, running into the wee hours—and that’s just the music.
Spain’s Indie Scene
After one glance at the roster and a consideration of its ethos, Primavera garners easy comparisons to Pitchfork Music Festival. Both are dedicated to presenting an eclectic, far-reaching program of music with superstars of alternative rock along with scores more on the domestic and international fronts who are independent, progressive, or just generally envelope-pushing. (Plus, Pitchfork has presented programming at Primavera, and vice versa; they also share the incorporation of a record fair and the touring poster art attraction, Flatstock.)
The average American festival-goer may not know much about the Spanish indie rock scene, but don’t let that stop you. It’s Barcelona in the spring—it’s gorgeous, warm, and sunny. The beach is there. You will likely hear singers vocalizing in different languages—at the very least Spanish, Catalan, English, and Portuguese.
In the past, stalwarts of the independent alternative music scene are known for creating a buzz at Primavera, whether it’s Dinosaur Jr., Blur, or Wu-Tang Clan – and that’s just last year’s festival. Whereas other music festivals might have one standout moment where something unbelievable happens on stage possibly among band members who have buried multiple hatchets in order to appear together again or who have otherwise called it quits or gone on hiatus, Primavera is chockablock with these transcendent moments. Arcade Fire’s triumphant comeback in 2017, Skepta, Death Grips, Grace Jones, Queens of the Stone Age, Kendrick Lamar, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, the Smashing Pumpkins, Neil Young, Pavement, the Breeders, the Cure, Pulp, Primal Scream, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, New Order and many more have all performed there in the past.
Mucha Primavera: So Much to Do, So Little Time?
Quick! How much time do you have? This operation has tons of tentacles. In order to really experience its full range of programming, it’s advisable to come early. Take advantage of Primavera als Clubs—bands and performers across the city during the week. The festival proper starts right at the end of May, but there’s a free concert the night before. Those traveling with little ones—or thinking about it—should investigate minimusica. That’s the interactive, kid-friendly programming portion.
Among the many alternative activities that Primavera have laid on over the years was In-Edit, a mini-fest that used to run within Primavera showcasing music-related documentary films. If you’re in the music biz, as is common with many music festivals of this size and scope, it presents (for a separate fee) a daytime conference-like component, PrimaveraPro, geared toward industry professionals, producers, thought leaders, musicians, progressive types in general who work in the business of music, technology, or the arts in some capacity.